Google improves marking of fake abortion clinic ads, but “there’s a lot more to be done,” advocates say

know about Google improves marking of fake abortion clinic ads, but “there’s a lot more to be done,” advocates say

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A protest outside an anti-abortion women’s health clinic or crisis pregnancy center (CPC). There are over 2,500 CPCs in the US.

As the states pass Increasing restrictions on abortion. and people search online for how to find abortion services, accurate information online is more important than ever. But anti-abortion groups are spreading misinformation to interfere with women’s access to abortion information and services.

If you Google “abortion services near me,” you’ll likely see an ad for anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy center” at the top of your search. There is more of 2,500 CPCs across the country. They pose as women’s health clinics to attract pregnant women and use medically inaccurate information and coercive tactics to obstruct their access to abortion.

Reproductive rights advocates fighting abortion misinformation are encountering headwinds in their efforts to promote accurate, science-based information on social media.

One of the tactics CPCs use is to buy Google ads posing as abortion clinics. After abortion advocacy groups raised the issue, Google adopted a politics in june 2019 Require that abortion ads for organizations that do not provide abortion services be marked with a warning, “does not provide abortion services,” in small, gray print below the ad. This policy was the result of research in 2018 that showed that only a third of Google ads facilitated abortion referrals, while another third hindered abortion referrals. (The rest neither facilitated nor hindered access.)

Google search conducted in Northampton, Massachusetts, showing a paid ad for the Clearway CPC Anti-Abortion Clinic at the top of the results list.

But even after the new policy was adopted, abortion rights advocates noted that warnings were often missing. So activists from the abortion pill advocacy organization Plan C made it a priority to work with Google to ensure all abortion-related ads were flagged.

“We’ve noticed for some time that warnings weren’t always showing up when it came to ads,” said Martha Dimitratou, Plan C’s social media manager. “We’ve been in communication with Google for maybe a year now.”

Google told Plan C that a technical glitch led to many anti-abortion ads without banners. Plan C worked closely with the folks at Google to make the warnings mandatory. Google recently stated that the warning will now appear on all abortion ads.

“A Google engineer worked on it to make sure it now appears in a more consistent way,” Dimitratou said. “Right now, we’re seeing the flags appear correctly in all ads across different browsers, including Firefox, Chrome, and Safari.”

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Warnings are triggered when advertisers tag their ads for terms like “abortion.” Dimitratou explained: “It has to do not only with how the ads are created, but also with the destination URL, that is, the website you are trying to drive traffic to. If any of these are related in any way to abortion, it would be flagged.”

Plan C urges people to pay attention and report any ads they notice that do not have the warnings to [email protected].

“I gather the reports and then I send them to Google,” Dimitratou said. “I hope they look at them. We need to push Google hard enough to do something.”

Our goal is to try to get not only ads, but all content created by CPCs flagged as false and misleading advertising. They use a lot of our language and our images. They claim to be something they are not.

Martha Dimitratou

Google also blocks ads that promote harmful health claims. In September In 2021, Google canceled ads by anti-abortion group Live Action about “abortion pill reversal,” the dangerous medically unproven theory of counteracting the effect of abortion pills with high doses of progesterone.

“Under our advertising policies, we do not allow ads that promote harmful health claims,” ​​Google spokeswoman Christa Muldoon said. he told Newsweek at the time. “This includes claims about the safety of the pill to reverse abortion.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said claims about “abortion pill reversal” are not based on science and do not meet clinical standards.

Dimitratou hopes Google will do even more to address abortion misinformation online. “Of course, there is much more to do. Our goal is to try to get not only ads, but all content created by CPCs flagged as false and misleading advertising. They use a lot of our language and our images. They claim to be something they are not.

Reproductive rights advocates are also helping people find accurate information online and avoid scams. women on the web Y Safe2Choose have a campaign providing tips on how to avoid scams when buying pills online and a online database of scams.

Reaching people with accurate information about abortion

Despite misleading Google ads from anti-abortion groups, the Internet plays a critical role in providing information on how to find abortion pills and use them safely. plan c abortion pills online guidefor example, it lists trusted telehealth providers and online pharmacies.


Dimitratau says he has noticed an increase in people searching for abortion pills online, especially after the Supreme Court’s draft opinion was leaked.

“People are looking for answers, especially after the leak. More people are trying to find ways to access abortion pills,” said Dimitratau. “People rely on social media platforms to find information.”

The day after the leak, Plan C’s website had 56,000 visitors, compared to 65,000 for the entire month of April. The first week of May had 100,000 visitors.

reproductionwhich provides free online training on home abortion, saw its biggest increase in web traffic in 2022. New users accounted for 93 percent of this audience, many hailing from GOP-led states like Texas, Virginia, Florida and Georgia.

Similarly, people flooded the website of the Austria-based provider of telemedicine abortions. Access to help, which provides care to everyone in the US, no matter where they live or if they can pay. Their website traffic increased by 2,800% the day after the breach, from 1,290 visitors on May 2 to 38,530 on May 3.

the Miscarriage and Abortion Hotlinestaffed by doctors who provide support for people who self-manage their abortions, was also inundated the day after the opinion leaked.

But on social media and Google, these groups have to fight to keep their posts and ads, which have been flagged and removed from social media platforms or buried in Google searches.

Our post about self-managed abortion with pills was flagged for breaking community standards. I did not receive an email. I did not receive a notification. It was simply quietly removed.

jessica ensley

Plan C has had trouble with Google blocking or restricting its ads, says Dimitratau. “Some of our ads have been completely blocked. And some of the ads have run, but they do so with limited reach. And also the Plan C account with the Google ad was deleted a few months ago. We had to appeal this.”

Dimitratau says that Plan C has removed four ads from Instagram and that his account was shut down twice in a row just before the Texas bounty hunter abortion ban went into effect last September. “We were unable to share information. We rely heavily on Facebook and especially Instagram to spread our message. We had to spend a lot of time appealing everything. It is very difficult to reverse these decisions. It is a constant coming and going. It’s very counterproductive.”

The reproach has also had deleted posts from Instagram and Facebook.

“Our post about self-managed abortion with pills was flagged for violating your community guidelines. I did not receive an email. I did not receive a notification. It was just quietly removed,” said Jessica Ensley, director of digital outreach and opposition research at Reproaction. “When we contacted, we got no response. There was no possibility to request a review of that publication. It has been very frustrating. I feel like these platforms are this black box when it comes to decision making. They don’t explain what’s against the guidelines.”

Reproaction executive director Erin Matson said: “It’s hard to get information when we’re being repressed. We are routinely getting beat up by social media companies.”

To fight back, Reproaction created a petitionthat they tried to deliver in person to Meta’s DC office in March, asking Facebook to stop suppressing factual information about abortion. Ensley says they haven’t received a response yet.

“A lot of our website traffic comes from social media, so when social media companies like Facebook and Twitter suppress fact-based abortion information, it can really have an impact on the sharing of abortion information. abortion,” Ensley said.

To report Google ads without the required branding, please contact Plan C at [email protected].

sign and share MillisecondRelaunch of the petition “We have had abortions”—whether you’ve had an abortion yourself, or just stand in solidarity with those who have—so the Supreme Court, Congress, and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, and affordable abortion.

Until next time: